“Reflective” literature 反思文学

As I wrote before, my short-term objective is expanding the number of characters that I can recognize and, after some exercise, read and understand, while proceeding step-by-step through more traditional Chinese language courses.

My experiment? I picked up in a library a book with two short tales (http://www.librarything.com/work/15246623/book/111584857) from Zhang Jie 张洁 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhang_Jie_%28writer%29).

Hence, the title of this post (have a look at the history here http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/3032).

But as the introduction to the book says, in order to read it you would need… 400 hours of Chinese learning- and I certainly have some more work to do, between now and December, before I can achieve that level.

Anyway, the real test was a “familiarity check”, i.e. to see if I could spot patterns and read short phrases, thanks also to another trick: this book is within the same series that I have been using, and therefore assumes that you already went through the previous books, so it adds only the vocabulary that you did not learn during the previous courses, and contains a vocabulary section after each short story.

So, this week I spent time to extensively and intensively exercise my writing skills, and transcribed all the texts within a university course, ending up with… aching joints on my left hand (when I write, I am mainly left-handed, also if with Russian I did learn to write with both hands, while I was living in Brussels and toying with Russian and Mandarin and Arabic to escape from terminal boredom).

I wrote a miniature character within each square on B5 a page (more or less)… some forty pages of them 😀

Well, it reminded me what a friend who was a surgeon said almost a couple of decades ago about what happened to his hands after doing microsurgery: try to do those miniature movements for few hours a day each day for a week, add some lifting of building material, and get ready for some collateral short-term damage, a variant of the “carpal tunnel”.

But it was worth doing, as this way, after the second day, I was able to “think ahead”, i.e. I had a feeling of what would be next when I copied characters, and got used, most of the time, to fit even the most complex characters within a small box, much smaller than traditional paper with squares specifically designed for Chinese language writing, and also on plain paper instinctively was able to reproduce and fit unknown characters within a “virtual square”, and guess (checked then with a software once in a while) the correct stroke sequence.

All this is in preparation of another B1/B2 course that I plan to do from September, but this time through French, not Italian, as it is from the Assimil series, i.e. based on continuous repetition and expansion of patterns.

I did check few weeks ago in a bookstore, and I saw that, by randomly opening pages, I was able to do correctly exercises around the middle of the book, thanks the other material that I used since February (including of course Headstart2, and first the A1/A2, then the B1/B2 university courses in Italia that I used since April, courtesy of local libraries).

The only issue with courses such as the ones that I am using now, built on a story that develops across few books (basically, three courses- but there are a couple of books more within the series), is that you end up with a vocabulary that is meaningful within the context of that university course, but not necessarily relevant outside that domain- or even in everyday personal or business life (I got tired of reading discussions in Chinese of how Italian universities work :D)

This latest book with the short stories from Zhang Jie is just 70 pages long, but it contains… almost 30 pages of vocabulary, and just 32 pages in Chinese.

No Pinyin, as anyway the book comes with a CD containing the audio version of each story (I did not check it out now, but I will eventually buy it- after I will complete the other course, probably by the end of November).

Let’s say that I am now simply adding those words to my personal learning list, but associated to short segments, as a mnemonic tool (as I did long ago with Latin), and I plan to eventually buy few more of those books (including a short one focused just on “decrypting” the language used in Chinese newspapers).

Frankly, I will skip the “advanced” course within the series, as I prefer to use a couple of grammars and the old FSI, as anyway that course is closely matched on the “functional language development” (i.e. mimicking real-life uses for specific purposes) that are more or less the same used within the FSI Mandarin course, while on everyday life I prefer either the MIT or Living Language Mandarin (I bought long ago the “Teach Yourself”, and maybe I will do it as a final check after completing the other courses).

Meanwhile, I did have a look on Amazon, and saw that, if you speak French or English (and even Italian or Spanish), it is feasible to buy collections of short stories with the text set as it was set in my books when I was learning Latin (i.e. bilingual), albeit I still have to find books containing what I am doing, based on my Latin learning experience, with my collection of Chinese language examples.

You have the characters. Then you have the Pinyin transliteration. Then you have the English version but translated according to the Chinese syntax. Finally, you have an English version that makes sense in English.

So, my next purpose is to continue scouting around Italy (where I am now- or around Europe, if I will resume business travel) for real-life business material or tourist guides in Chinese and one of the other languages that I can read without a dictionary- a Rosetta Stone (the original, not the software) approach that I used with other languages (including English) that I studied in the past for fun.

Actually, I have already some material, and maybe over the next few weeks I will share some excerpts here, while sticking to the usual format- one week writing about the business side, one week about the language learning side, with pointers to material.

The final destination (yes, like in the movie)? To build up a collection of material that can be seen as a coherent set of learning material (I will eventually add a “bibliography and suggested readings” section within this blog).

Meanwhile… have a nice week!

PS Please read the introduction to understand how to use this website 🙂

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